I went to SLCC!

And it was terrifically wonderful, and I came home with a nasty summer cold and layers of crises at work, that have been keeping me from weblogifying about it (or even thinking about it as much as I’d like to).

Here’s Philip Linden, talking about stuff!

Esbee, Oz, and Philip; SLCC2010

Isn’t my cellphone camera awful? That’s Esbee Linden and Oz Linden, and Philip Linden; I vaguely think that Philip jumped up to the stage to answer a question during Ebsee’s and Oz’s (and Q’s, on the phone from the hospital) talk about Team Snowstorm.

Philip gave a nice Philipish keynote, in which he said lots of Right Things (and didn’t say anything about how we have to change radically to attract millions of new users at the expense of the basic wonderfulness of SL, hurrah!), and left everyone hoping he could actually make them happen.

(He also said some things that made me sad, like the end of the Teen Grid and of the Last Name List, but Τα Πάντα ῥεῖ, y’know…)

I hung out with terrific people, some of whom I’d met before in RL and some not, had some great (if pricey) food, drank more alcohol than I usually drink, and had the most fun that I’ve had in RL in some time (with clothes on, as someone added when I said that, nudge nudge wink wink).

There were some sessions, but y’know (and no offense to the presenters) they were pretty much as useful and informative as a good weblog post with an active comment thread. There was live music, which was ‘way fun and probably the thing that was most like the SL equivalent (someone even put pink and blue paper plates on the floor for poseballs haha), although it had the usual RL problem that it was too loud for me to understand anyone talking, or anyone to understand me talking, except rarely. But just listening to the music and clapping and laughing and smiling at people was great.

Mostly there were people who care about Second Life wandering about and having random hallway conversations, and slightly less random room conversations (until omg like 3 in the morning zzzzzz), and wandering about the streets and eating dinner in restaurants or buying it at the 7-11. And actually being able to touch and hug and hold hands and grin into each other’s eyes, which I don’t really miss not being able to do all that much in SL, but being able to do it now and then in RL has its good points. :)

The schedule changed alot (first because Philip was able to show up live for his keynote after all, which was great, but at a slightly different time than his remote one was at first scheduled for, and thereafter for random who-knows-what reasons), so it was often hard to figure out just what one could go to next. The schedule was organized by track rather than by time, so figuring out what to go to at 10am involved large amounts of page-flipping. There wasn’t enough free coffee. :) I heard rumors about various musicians being told that if they wanted to come and perform they’d have to pay full-price conference admission, which seems like sort of a mistake. But in general the conference folks did a good job, especially considering that they didn’t have all that long to get it all together, and they were all over the place carrying microphones and smiling and things, and that was all good.

Some of my v wonderful friends made me a blue RL shoulder-butterfly to reference the blue SL shoulder-butterfly that Boy Dale always wears, and that was too sweet for words. I wore it to the Avatar Ball, but didn’t enter the Best and Worst Costume lineup, ’cause I didn’t really want to win either one. :)

I ran away from the knot of people with Philip in the center that moved here and there around all major events (until he left), knowing that others would be taking notes for me.

I drank a mojito! This involves alcohol. Also lime and some salad, I mean, some mint-leaves down in the bottom of the cup. I also drank wine. Both of these are comparatively novel for me :) but I did not suffer unduly.

I danced around on the dancefloor at the Avatar Ball, and played with the inflatable guitars and microphones and things, and talked-shouted to some nearby folks. My car pool :) left before the closing ceremonies and the movie; I will have to arrange to see it somewhere else sometime.

Lots of people that I would have liked to meet weren’t there! I hope to meet them (you!) someday in RL, conditions permitting. I’m not sure I’ll go to the next one if it’s in California or Guam or Venus or something. We’ll see. But I’m very glad that I went to this one; both because it was a total hoot, and because it strengthened my belief that, despite how fashionable it is to say that SL is in deep trouble and doom is nigh, things are actually most likely to muddle along just as they always have. And that I’ll continue to totally love the place…

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Dale goes to Boston

I am apparently going to SLCC! (That’s the annual Second Life Community Convention, where for some reason a bunch of Residents all meet in the “RL” virtual world and do unspecified things.)

I can tell I am going because I have now spent Quite A Bit Of Money for the right and ability to attend. If it weren’t for that it would seem pretty unlikely, since I’ve never gone before, nor felt any strong inclination to. But Boston is relatively easy to get to from here, and my threshold for being tempted into new odd things seems rather low these days…

The convention is held in RL rather than SL, I gather, both for a change of pace and because in RL you can get a really huge number of AVs into the same region, and it’s all high-res and multi-sensory and all (although due to some glitch in my viewer I haven’t been able to get “smell” working for a long time). Still, the disadvantages are also considerable, and I’m not looking forward to two days of interacting only in voice (!), having no TPs or profiles, and being unable to fly or rez stuff. I mean, sheesh…

But anyway! I’m hoping it will be fun. There are various businessy tracks that I currently intend to ignore, and some music and art and social tracks that I will investigate. Or maybe I will just hang out with the geeks and talk about interop for hours. :)

Send yer ideas for the SLCC Music track!

Grace says, pay attention!I love live music in SL. Doesn’t even have to be especially good, as long as it’s real and warm and connected. And when it is good, that’s even better.

As I type this I’m at The New Blue Moon, listening (and dancing) to KelvinBlue Oh on jazz guitar, and he’s good. He always is. :) And now, ’cause I compose weblog entries slowly sometimes, it’s Oldwolf Criss, who I haven’t heard before, but so far it’s triff.

One of the first live performers that I became really aware of in SL, as an ongoing person whose stuff was real and warm and connected and good, and who had (and has) a great community of fans and friends and creatives around her, is Grace McDunnough. She’s a great singer, an’ songwriter, an’ all-around smart person, so I try to pay attention when she says things. Even when it’s things about SLCC, which I have to admit I’ve never paid a whole heck of alot of attention to. :)

So anyway that was a long leadup to this here notecard from Grace, soliciting good ideas for a discussion of SL live music on Sunday of SLCC (whenever that is). Read and obey!

Live performance is Second Life is one of my passions, and if you are reading this notecard it’s probably important to you too. And that’s why we need your help.

Linden Lab has asked the live performance community for our suggestions, ideas, complaints and genius bits about how to improve the overall experience for everyone – from performers to venue owners and event planners to residents.

As part of the SLCC Music Track, we will be having a discussion Saturday at 3PM SL/PDT on the panel: Looking to the Future of Live Performance in SL with Colossus Linden.

You can help make that track powerfully meaningful- just add your ideas and insights using the embedded form found here:
http://bit.ly/SLCCideas

Everyone’s input will be collected, we’ll organize the information, and we’ll talk about as much as we possibly can at SLCC. We’ll also make sure that the information is accessible to anyone that is interested.

Please spread the word and thanks in advance.

If you have questions, just drop me a note.

Peace ~ Grace

Closer and Closer!

With the announcement that Ray Kurzweil is giving the introductory keynote address at this year’s SLCC (Second Life Community Convention), there’s been some resurgence of the whole “Are Second Life and AI and nanobots and stuff going to transform the world tomorrow, or will we have to wait until next week?” meme, and related thoughts.

New World Notes calls the announcement “extraordinary and transformational”, which strikes me as way over the top. (I mean, even if you think Kurzweil’s thinking is extraordinary and transformational, it would be a weird thing to say about a single talk, much less about the mere announcement of a talk.) I replied in the comments (lightly edited):

/me grins. “extraordinary and transformational” is a tad strong, I think. He’s done some really good work in OCR, speech recog, and cool musical instruments, but he’s kinda over-the-top in the AI and virtual reality realms.

One of his most famous charts is that hysterical one showing number of neurons a computer can simulate over time, and implying that by the year whatever computers will be smarter than people. As if the hard problem in AI was getting enough transistors on a chip! (Example: a mouse is higher on his chart than the Deep Blue chess-playing computer; but how good is your typical mouse at chess?)

His ideas about virtual reality are fun, but again I think overblown. When I’m wearing these glasses and “walking around” in a completely immersive virtual world, explain to me again how I avoid tripping over my real-world chair and walking into walls? And 10 or 20 years seems like a wild underestimate for people having brains full of nanobots. The things he says are cool-sounding, but I think he’s drifted away from practical fact in various ways.

I’m sure he’ll give an engaging and thought-provoking keynote, but these days he’s really more of a showman than a technologist; it will be fun, but hardly extraordinary or transformational. The danger with Kurzweil is that he goes beyond the factual or even the plausible, makes the techies roll their eyes, and builds up unrealistic expectations in the audience that, when they are not matched in reality, could lead to a backlash of (similarly unwarranted) skepticism.

And then, in reply to some good words fro Extropia DaSilva:

I think one of the things that somewhat makes me roll my eyes about Kurzweil is that he has a number of things like that chart: the most obvious message is an extremely exciting, but wrong, one (in this case, that we’ll have computers as smart as people by year nnnn), whereas if you read him carefully enough he’s actually using it to make a claim that’s more plausible, but much much less exciting (in this case, that by year nnnn we’ll have overcome one of the very minor challenges in making smart computers).

If all he’s really saying is that we’ll have solved the easy problem, why did he bother to make that chart at all? Where is his chart of progress in the software / semantic side of the problem (which would be essentially flat)?

I share your skepticism about his claimed timescales. This sentence is another example of the tendency I posit above: “we are learning to build artificial brains that are getting closer and closer to matching the power and performance of the biological version”. Taken at face value, with “closer and closer” meaning that we’re pretty close, it’s exciting but false. Taken more literally, with “closer and closer” meaning “we’ve gone from a thousand light-years away to 999.9 light-years away”, it’s true but boring.

I think Kurzweil’s right about the exciting things that people will be able to do in the future. I think he’s wrong about how much progress we’ve currently made in those directions; and that’s a big part of his message.

Really I think it’s good that they got Kurzweil to come and talk; he’ll stir things up. People don’t have to be right to be interesting, or to inspire useful discussion and even useful work. Which is good, because I don’t think Kurzweil is right. :)

It’s easy to get excited and breathless about all this cool futurist stuff, in either direction. In a comment thread on Second Thoughts, Desmond Shang wrote, on the subject of Cyc:

The great thing about this, is that it would make an awesome avatar back end intelligence with very little work.

which rather disappointed me, because Desmond is usually more sensible than that. Cyc would do no such thing; at most it would help slightly with one of the many problems that we are light-years away from solving in “avatar intelligence”. Of course, if someone can prove me wrong about that with very little work, I hope they do. :)

This all reminds me of that widely-blogged demo where some folks made a program-controlled avatar (a ‘bot) called “Eddie” that supposedly was able to reason at the level of a four-year-old. Looking into it more deeply what they’d actually done was a small demo of how a program could be explicitly programmed to model a particular problem about belief-understanding in such a way that it was about as good at it as a four year old person would be. Which is probably a good piece of research and a fine use of time, but the impression that people were getting from it, something like “we can now have Second Life bots that are as intelligent as four-year-olds”, was just completely wrong.

Another recent example of this, I suspect, is that “Milo” demo from Lionhead. In this case the maker of the thing is making pretty amazing-sounding claims about it (including that what they are doing goes beyond anything in science fiction!), but I strongly suspect that the reality behind it is much more modest. (Which is to say, my “rigged-demo” detectors are pinging hard the whole time.)

(Reminds me also of that “OnLive/OTOY” demo of how advances in server-side rendering are going to give us all the ability to get to Second Life at 60 fps from our cellphones any day now. Uh-huh.)

And on the other side Second Thoughts has now spent three whole entries on how anyone who says favorable things about AI and nanotechnology and life extension and transhumanism and stuff like that is a crypto-fascist who wants to take over the world, in typical flaming-at-straw-men fashion. Not that straw men don’t make a nice fire. :)

I find that I don’t have a simple opinion about all of this stuff, myself. I think science is, overall, a good thing; figuring out how the world works and how to make it work more the way that we want it to is good. Exactly what “we” means there, just who (if anyone) should be in charge, what should happen when what I want to do (whether enabled by science or not) conflicts with that you want to do, are all hard questions. In general I’m a left-libertarian in some sense; I think that the government should leave us alone unless we’re actually harming or defrauding someone, and that it’s nice when what we choose to do with that being-left-alone is to be nice to each other, to share things, to sit around wearing flowers in our hair and playing the guitar, and so on.

Along with that, it’s good to think about all sorts of wild stuff that some of us might want to do in the future, like modify our bodies to be able to live in space, like developing devices that are actually intelligent, like making itty bitty machines that can swim around in our bloodstreams and keep us healthy. And as we think about doing those things, and start to even do them, the same principles apply: we each should be allowed to do what we want if it’s not hurting anybody, and it’s nice when we do it in nice cooperative ways involving guitar music.

Hm, I’ve been rambling here, what was I going to say? Oh, yeah: and while it’s fun to have some people around (Ray Kurzweil, Peter Molyneux of Lionhead, and so on) who make it sound like things are farther along than they really are (because that makes us hopeful, and stirs up debate), it’s even better to have, when we can get it, realistic estimates of what’s really going on.

Because truth is good, too.